Bike Makers’ Patent Battle May Reveal India’s Hand

Multinational auto makers have been fighting IPR infringement in a number of emerging markets, and a strong policy in India would give them greater confidence to introduce new technology and designs.

MUMBAI – Complex and contentious patent issues that have arisen between two local bike makers illustrate the state of intellectual property rights (IPR) in India and ultimately may have widespread effect on the nation’s engine and auto makers.

The case involves AVL List GmbH of Austria, which licensed India’s TVS Motor Co. Ltd. a specially designed and patented engine for its Flame 125cc bike. It features a 3-valve dual-induction system that increases fuel efficiency without sacrificing power.

The engine includes controlled-combustion variable-timing intelligence (CCVTi) technology. It also uses dual spark plugs and delivers the highest mileage and torque in its class.

Rival bike maker Bajaj Auto Ltd. launched a lawsuit contending TVS was infringing on its 5-year-old patent (valid for 20 years) covering digital twin-spark ignition engine (DTSi) technology.

A stay by the High Court on the sale of TVS Flame was lifted by the Supreme Court, but TVS later switched to a single spark plug for its new engines anyway.

“It is not critical to our engine,” a TVS source says of the previous dual-plug configuration.

TVS also petitioned Intellectual Property Appellate Board to revoke the Bajaj patent.

“The twin-spark technology has been used in aero engines since 1937,” says TVS Chairman Venu Srinivasan.

The Bajaj’s small-bore engine concept covered by the patent is not unique, he adds, because Honda Motor Co. Ltd. invented the technology and has had it in use since 1930s.

IPR and patent awareness still is emerging in India, and the ruling in the Bajaj-TVS case could signal how far the country is willing to go. Multinational auto makers have been fighting IPR infringement in a number of emerging markets, most notably the Middle East, China and elsewhere in the Asia/Pacific region, and a strong policy in India would give them greater confidence to introduce new technology and designs here.

The number of international patents filed by Indian manufacturers before World Intellectual Property Organization, a United Nations agency, are a small drop in the total, accounting for 686 of 156,000 in 2005 and 35,000 of 390,000 in 2007.

In addition to WIPO membership, India participates in all major global treaties and is a signatory to Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS). India also is setting up a National Institute for IPR.

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